Do you know what a conic is?
I asked a friend and he said, “It’s when something is so famous, it is an icon.”
“No,” I said. “Not iconic. A conic.”
He didn’t know the answer, not that there was any reason he should have. I’m not sure if they teach it in high school anymore, but a conic is a math term. Imagine a cone, just like the orange ones we see on the side of a freeway or the ones that hold our single, or double, scoops of ice cream, or maybe I don’t have to explain what a cone is. Then, imagine slicing one of those cones full through. The shape that is left is called a conic.
How do I still know this after all these years? I had an amazing math teacher named Mrs. Keir. (Go Skyline Eagles!)
For the conic unit of math, she divided us into teams. I will never tell you lovely readers exactly how old I am, but I will let you know our conic team was named “Conic 90210.” Draw your own conclusions.
We Conic 90210-ers took this very seriously. We made uniforms, drew our own mascot and trash talked the other teams. We participated in related games like “Pin the tail on the parabola” and “What would your spirit conic look like.”
and “Name your favorite hyperbola.”
There were so many great hyperbolas to choose from. Grumpy, Dopey, Happy, Nerdy, You’ll-never-get-a-date-this-way-y. It was a tough choice.
OK, I might have made up some of those games because my memory is not that good, but I do remember the final battle: “The Human Conic.” Not to be confused with Human Centipede. Although maybe it should be related, because Each member of our team was joined together by string into one giant, human conic.
I got thinking about this because my mom (who was also a teacher) recently received a letter from a student she’d had… ahem… decades ago. (Sorry mom).
She taught English and put my dad through medical school. In the letter from her former student, the student mentioned inspiration and motivation, but mostly remembered her saying, “If you come away with nothing else, remember this: A lot is two words.”
Our country has faced A LOT of division over these past few months. Or maybe years. But this student remembered “a lot.” And I remembered “Conic 90210.” And my sister remembered an English teacher at Olympus who taught lessons through guitar songs and managed to make diagramming sentences fun.
I think we all need a palate cleanser. My mom always told me that when life looked a little hopeless, and it seemed like the two sides of any fight couldn’t find common ground, I should put everything down. Find something to focus on that is not myself. Tend to a friend in need. Track down a teacher from decades ago who made an impact and write them a letter.
We may wish the best for the leaders of our country, but we are not defined by them. We are not even defined by political platforms. We are instead defined by our interactions with others, the imprints we leave on them, and the memories they leave us.
Like Emily in “Our Town”, when my country seems too big for me to realize, and the mountains seem too steep to climb, I find it comforting to go back home, wherever “home” is, and search for those people not across the country, but across the neighborhood, and across your memories. Your tribe.
This is for Mrs. Keir. Even though I have never used conics in my adult life, I will never forget that magical few weeks that made me love math. And gave me an excuse to study “Beverly Hills 90210.”
Brodi Ashton is a New York Times best-selling author who lives in the Salt Lake City area. She’s also an occasional columnist for The Salt Lake Tribune.